Gulf News reader Konstamtim Rosin, who works as a fireman in Abu Dhabi, expressed his concerns about the lack of proper maintenance in several buildings.

He told Gulf News: “What I have experienced in my duty as a fireman in both Ras Al Khaimah and now Abu Dhabi is that almost every time there’s a fire alert, the fire panel in the building is either in error mode or not active at all. The smoke detectors in the building record the fire or smoke, the signal reaches the operation room in the building and the person in charge alerts the Civil Defence. But, because the panels are faulty, sometimes the Civil Defence is not even informed. The building management needs to maintain the service and guarantee that the panels are in fact working and the fire protection system is operational.”

On the issue of cigarette smoke sounding the alarms, Rosin said: “Smoke from a cigarette cannot sound an alarm. The detectors are able to recognise the difference between smoke from a fire and that of a cigarette. Fire alarms can be triggered by a lack of maintenance, or because of excess dust.”

Rosin also spoke about the manual alarms, which are available in building corridors.

He said: “There are small red boxes on the walls. If the main sensors are not working, one of the residents can break the glass on the box and push the button inside. This sends a signal to the main panel in the operation room and the person managing it calls the Civil Defence. The latest addition in some buildings is when the alarm rings, a direct signal is sent to the Civil Defence to alert them. However, this isn’t available in all buildings yet.”

Another concern that Rosin had was the fact that many emergency exits are blocked.

He said: “Staircases, which are a part of the evacuation routes, are most likely blocked by cabinets, bicycles, trolleys and many other things. The cabinets use to store the extinguishers are misused or tampered with. When the Civil Defence arrives at a scene of fire, we are usually aware what floor the fire is on; the security could alert us or the detectors guide us. When we attach the hose from the fire truck to deliver water to a higher floor, the floors below get flooded because the valves might have been left open. I urge all residents to not tamper with the fire safety systems installed in their buildings for their own safety.”

According to a Gulf News report published in June, 2014, among the steps taken to reduce fire incidents, there is a plan to link all commercial and industrial establishments across the country to the Civil Defence operations room. The automatic alerts will also show the location of the fire. This is in an attempt to reduce the response time to a fire. The international response time is four minutes.

The Sharjah Civil Defence presently has the shortest response time of 5.3 minutes compared with similar departments across the country that respond to the fire in 6 minutes, as stated in the same report. All business establishments in the emirate are equipped with DCD alarms, a smart system that is linked to the Civil Defence control room. In case of fire, the control room gets instant information, which helps in despatching firefighters promptly.

Sharjah Civil Defence formed six committees that included more than 40 inspectors to inspect business premises in Sharjah. They conduct surprise visits at business establishments, including factories, warehouses, labour accommodations and in all 20 industrial areas in Sharjah.

Fines are imposed ranging between Dh5,000 and Dh50,000 based on the fire safety federal law issued by the Ministry of Interior that is implemented in all emirates.

The General Headquarters of Civil Defence, Ministry of Interior, has issued specific guidelines for buildings in the UAE in terms of fire safety. The guidelines, titled ‘UAE fire and life safety code of practice’, tackles any questions that building owners would have related to fire protection. There’s an entire chapter on fire detection and alarm system that has details down to the design of the building and where fire alarms should be placed. It even highlights how buildings have to be divided into detection zones. Additionally, manual call points have to be installed on all escape routes, including stairwell entrances. These can be used by residents to sound the alarm in case of a fire that isn’t detected by one of the automatic alarms.